AUTOMOTIVE MULTIMEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS

Detailed system and semiconductor demand analysis for in-vehicle infotainment, telematics and vehicle-device connectivity features.

December 24, 2013 22:29 rlanctot

GM has been flooding YouTube with ads featuring OnStar this holiday season. The ads, which have been around since mid-year and have appearing previously on television, present either the remote diagnostics or roadside assistance capabilities of the 17-year-old telematics service.

The ads are interesting for the way they highlight the challenges still facing the automotive industry when it comes to leveraging a built-in modem to sell more cars. After investing hundreds of millions of dollars in OnStar, a well-recognized and powerful brand name, the expectation is that OnStar ought to help sell cars.

Many years ago, OnStar was capable of doing precisely that, easing the anxiety of car buyers that help would be automatically summoned in the event of an accident. But the advent of the smartphone has somewhat diminished the power and relevance of this message.

But still, OnStar remains a key element of GM’s unique selling proposition and so the advertising campaign must go on.  Among the places I have run across OnStar’s TV ads and high volume is on YouTube. There are two ads, one focusing on remote diagnostics and the other on roadside assistance.

The remote diagnostic ad shows a GM vehicle having an extraterrestrial experience with a satellite beaming vehicle information from the car to the vehicle owner – reassuring that owner that the car is performing as it should. The roadside assistance ad promises that OnStar will come to the rescue if one of its vehicles should leave the roadway and become disabled.

Of course, OnStar isn’t the only car company trying to sell cars be touting the benefits of a built-in cellular module for emergency calls, roadside assistance or even vehicle diagnostics. Hyundai, too, has advertised its built-in BlueLink solution – also to limited effect. The problem lies in the the limitations of these two use cases.

In the case of the vehicle diagnostics communication, customers tend to lose interest. In the real world, very little goes wrong with new cars in the first couple of years of ownership - hopefully. As a result, after the first couple periodic messages, consumers tend to lose interest.

To make diagnostic communications more compelling cars would have to perform far less predictably – ie. they’d have to fail more often. No one wants that. What customers do want, though, is real-time communications when a system fails, or better yet a message anticipating a failure and alerting the driver.

Both of these cases are problematic from an advertising perspective. It is hard to highlight how a car either anticipates or responds to system failures. This is especially true when most of the car advertising on television shows drivers blissfully driving through winding mountain roads or empty (yes, empty!) city streets.

The closest that television advertising for cars in the U.S. comes to the emergency response or breakdown anticipation message are ads emphasizing safety aired most prominently by Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz. Consumers' car-purchasing instincts are not stimulated by ads for roadside assistance or vehicle diagnostics.

The roadside assistance ad, in particular, is an interesting twist for OnStar. In the past these ads emphasized the case of a violent crash with the potential for injuries and an urgent OnStar response. In the latest ad the driver appears to have simply wandered onto the shoulder of the road and become stuck.

With U.S. highway fatalities declining annually for the past decade (a string broken last year with a slight uptick), the average consumer simply does not fear death or injury from a car crash the way they should or the way they did 17 years ago. As a result, the advertising message may only resonate with older consumers, although the driver in the ad is decades away from retirement age.

The ads and their presence on YouTube on the eve of Christmas and at the peak of year-end new-car offers suggests a bid to sell cars with the OnStar message or at least build brand equity. Coming as they do less than a year ahead of GM’s launch of LTE technology the ads capture a moment in time for GM that is passing quickly.

By this time next year OnStar will be talking in its ads about software updates and application downloads, remote control of the car and in-vehicle app stores. Until then, we can sleep soundly in the quiet assurance that OnStar is watching over its customers this holiday season.

A final note: OnStar is once again offering its Santa Claus report to customers who press the blue button:

From Twitter:

OnStar @OnStar 10h

#Santa’s journey has just begun! Press the blue #OnStar button to follow him from the North Pole to your door. pic.twitter.com/UhLMTASUVm

Is it asking too much to want an actual traffic report instead?


December 21, 2013 14:28 rlanctot

EE Times reported last week that Google will announce a consortium to foster the development of some sort of “Android in Car” solution to counter Apple’s iOS in Car concept. Apple claims iOS in Car is being adopted by as many as 12 car makers – although the industry as a whole is still waiting to hear about precisely of what iOS in Car consists.

The EE Times story got a lot of attention in the industry, but appears to be a bunch of hokum. The operative paragraph in the piece was as follows:

“In addition to Android in the Car, the announcement will involve the formation of an industry consortium and the adoption of communication standards, EE Times has learned. Google’s goal presumably, is to make it easier for developers to design apps for cars.”

There are few things more unlikely than Google seeking to create a consortium. Google doesn’t create consortiums. Companies create consortiums to cope with Google or to take on Google. But Google does not create consortiums. Google is the antithesis of the consortium ethos.

The reason the words “Google” and “consortium” are something of an oxymoron is the fact that Google turns the idea of a consortium and coalition on its head. Google was founded to leverage the strength of the Linux open source community in its favor as the creator of a “closed” version of Linux – ie. Android.

In Google’s world, there is no sharing or cooperation. Anyone interested in using Android needs to cooperate with Google. So there is no point in creating or participating in any consortium.

The only thing less likely than Google participating in or creating a consortium, however, is the possibility of Google allowing Apple to steal the limelight at CES. And, of course, the only thing less likely than that is that Apple might actually attend CES. Apple has become spectacularly adept at influencing CES without even showing up.

So, to be clear, Apple will not attend CES. And Google, too, will not have a presence at the show.

So the alleged confrontation between these two “tech giants” will take place by proxy throughout the show floor.  Both Google and Apple have a wide range of projects underway in the automotive market including:

 

Solutions

Objectives

Google

SendtoCar, Maps/Navi, Traffic, Google Earth, Google Glasses, Android, POIs, etc.

Search aggregation and advertising revenue

Apple

Siri, iOS in Car, iTunes, Navigation, iTunes Radio, adapters and interfaces

Selling hardware and content

Both companies have shown interest in screen replication solutions – along the lines of MirrorLink – reproducing the content on the mobile device screen into the head unit. MirrorLink is the product of a consortium – initiated by Nokia in cooperation with a coalition of European car makers.

The key difference for Google is that more than a dozen car makers are actually working on embedded Android-based systems – putting the OS directly into the car’s center stack rather than enabling a mobile device connection. Hyundai and Kia have announced their plans for in-dash Android systems and other car companies have shown or demonstrated similar concepts.

Google has been aggressively pursuing enterprise-wide relationships with car makers. As part of these efforts Google has made it clear that it is interested in taking charge of much more than just the in-car infotainment system. The company is out to take on the entire connected car customer experience.

It is for this reason that the concept of a consortium is so laughable. Google doesn’t collaborate. Google takes over. In this, Google is much like Apple.

Expect Google to continue to pursue its industry absorption strategy at CES, even if only indirectly. Google’s strength lies in its focus and in its developer support. For their part the car makers want to glean the best of Google – developer support for Android – while avoiding the downside – Google’s customer conquest.

One thing has been clarified recently, though. Google has put the word out that car makers licensing Android for use in center stacks must deploy Android without modification.

Only by preserving Android in its entirety will OEMs guarantee that their systems can be updated thereby preserving compatibility. Google is making clear that forked versions of Andoid, such as those found in the Renault R-Link and Volvo Sensus systems, are on the wrong track. That is how Google arrives at consensus – no need for a consortium.  Are you on the bus?


December 1, 2013 05:47 rlanctot

The week before the week of Thanksgiving in the U.S., I was on a transcontinental flight to Los Angeles for the L.A. Auto Show in a plane with no in-seat power and no seatback or overhead display. (There was also only a paid snack, no free meal.) What the airline offered, though, was Wi-Fi (paid).

Combined with a recent loosening of the rules governing the use of mobile devices on airplanes in the U.S. it is clear that the era of bring your own device (BYOD) on airplanes has arrived. For airlines, the calculation is clear – removing displays in every seat (along with overhead displays) reduces weight and fuel consumption.

Add in the fact that a significant portion of travelers are willing to pay for the privilege of wirelessly connecting and the switch to BYOD is a no-brainer. Flying is a sit back experience – although I am writing this blog while in flight over the Pacific.  Walk down the aisle of an airplane on a long haul flight and you will find 50% or more of the passengers with their faces bathed in an LCD glow from a mobile device.

The airline I fly most frequently, United, is clearly in the midst of a fleet-wide Wi-Fi upgrade: http://www.united.com/web/en-us/Content/travel/inflight/wifi/default.aspx

In cars, though, it is a different story. While driving seven hours to Thanksgiving dinner and eight hours back from Thanksgiving dinner this past week it was clear that the BYOD era has arrived in cars – at least in my car. Two of my sons played games, texted and talked on their personal devices in the rearseat, connecting with personal unlimited data plans.

But driving back at night revealed at least two dozen neighboring SUVs and minivans on the highway with fold-down, ceiling-mounted displays – including one three-row SUV with two rows of fold-down displays. Display configurations in cars include single split screens, headrest-mounted displays, fold up and fold down systems.

Rearseat entertainment remains, famously, a niche category – suitable mainly for young families and hip-hop artists. But RSE suppliers seeking growth can find it in emerging markets, where both OEM and aftermarket installation of these systems continues to grow.

Where airlines may be removing displays to reduce weight, car makers are adding displays, according to Strategy Analytics forecasts and in response to consumer demand: http://tinyurl.com/o9kn2br - In-Vehicle Displays: Consumer Preferences and Market Forecast.

A unique circumstance is emerging in cars, though, as the means of connecting mobile devices to on-board displays continue to proliferate. From the Wi-Fi Alliance's Miracast to Apple’s Airplay, VNC and HTPC technologies, the future will find cars and airplanes diverging in their display installation strategies.  In cars, consumers will increasingly seek to connect their mobile device to the on-board system - while airplanes will remain a disconnected, personal experience.

Built-in displays may be disappearing from some airplane cabins, while proliferating in cars. But both user environments are seeking to accommodate the brought in mobile devices of drivers and passengers in their own ways. But please, United, bring back in-seat power.


November 27, 2013 17:40 rlanctot

Harman’s Aha shook up the automotive industry this week with a video demonstrating its vision of the future of in-vehicle advertising. The video (available here: http://youtu.be/uU925H7xDgc) highlights the collaboration between Aha and Placecast to deliver a location-enhanced advertising experience in the car.

The video shows ads popping up in the head unit using the same HMI of music or radio station play (album art + thumbs up) with an audio call to action.  Regulators may grumble, but the interaction that is enabled is no more complex or challenging than changing a radio station or CD.

The video shows the results of a test, already implemented and in the field, running through December 20 with what Aha execs describe as a light schedule of stations and impression loads.  All OEM and aftermarket implementations of Aha have the experience enabled including more than 50 models from 14 OEMs including the Ford F-Series, Escape and Fusion; Honda Accord and Odyssey; Subaru Forester and Impreza; Mazda 3; and  Porsche Cayenne and Boxster.

Aha says more than 2 million vehicles on the road are capable of displaying the Aha application.  The big challenge seems not to be getting into cars, something for which Aha has demonstrated an acumen, but rather getting consumers to tune in.

Aha is not alone in seeking to redefine the advertising experience in the car.  Other candidates include Clip Interactive using audio content recognition and Roximity (available via Ford SYNC) which offers some location awareness.  Aha is alone in enabling a center stack display of the offer with interactivity - something previously thought to be anathema.

Airbiquity and others have shown similar concepts.  TeleNav, in particular, is focusing on location-enhanced advertising on mobile devices with plans to bring the experience into the head unit.  But Aha is first to the dash.

Clearly an interactive advertising offer will not attract consumers, so the video is an obvious business-to-business message for car makers and their suppliers.  What Aha has enabled, though is a template for transforming the advertising experience in the car.

The automotive industry has become almost completely unmoored from the radio dial.  In the process, a door has been opened to a new content and media engagement opportunity that can be location-enhanced and listener-focused.

Aha is pointing the way toward a third path – away from Google and Apple – for automakers to create a more intimate engagement with their customers.  With Aha, automakers will be able to enrich the driving experience by giving drivers control of their advertising experience in the car.

Users of Aha will ultimately be able to pay for no advertisements or specify the time, type and frequency of the advertising they receive.  All is now possible along with the further added value, to the car maker, of extracting vehicle data for even closer customer engagement.

The Aha demo does raise questions regarding ad triggers and frequency and the potential for driver distraction.  But these concerns are manageable.  Most of all the demo suggests that there is no turning back now that the industry can see what is possible. 

All that remains for Aha, and its parent Harman, is to surrender the so-far futile branding effort around Aha and embrace a white label market strategy.  Aha can become a default infotainment platform in the car, OEM-branded, and with a customized business model and HMI suitable to each OEM.

Whether Harman will embrace this opportunity and reposition Aha away from its branded-button-on-the-screen positioning to a more all-encompassing in-vehicle interaction platform remains to be seen.  Now that Aha has demonstrated that the Starbucks-discount-offer-as-I’m-driving-by-Starbucks proposition is possible, it is time to consider the broader implications.

Aha will never be Google, Apple or Facebook, but it is the perfect antidote to these pretenders.  Google, Apple and Facebook are all seeking to move into the automotive industry and carjack its customers.  Aha is showing a way for OEMs to stay in the driver’s seat.  That is something we can all give a thumbs up.

 


November 25, 2013 13:21 rlanctot

Three car fires affecting Tesla’s Model S in the past month have caused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (at the invitation of Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk) to announce a safety investigation, the results of which will likely not be available for months. Tesla’s stock price has taken a hit and financial analysts expect sales to suffer, but Musk keeps turning crises into marketing opportunities, while highlighting a significant auto industry blind spot: software updates.

In response to the fires, Tesla announced a software over the air update to raise the speed at which the car automatically lowers itself by an inch for better aerodynamics. For more details, read Musk’s blog: http://www.teslamotors.com/blog/mission-tesla.

(Of course, what Tesla’s Model S really needs is Mercedes Benz’s Magic Body Control, which is capable of dynamically anticipating road undulations and setting vehicle suspension settings on the fly: http://tinyurl.com/n2q3b3g. But you can’t download sensors.)

In his blog, Musk invites NHTSA to investigate the fires while emphasizing the fact (based on National Fire Protection Association data) that a driver is 4.5x more likely to experience a car fire in a car equipped with an internal combustion engine than in a Tesla Model S.  Musk also notes the absence of any injuries or fatalities in Model S fires vs. “400 fatalities and 1,200 serious injuries” from 250,000 car fires occurring since the middle of 2012 in the U.S.

In his blog, Musk also offers an update and an expansion of the existing Model S warranty to compensate owners who may experience future fires and notes plans for a software update to give control of suspension height to the driver.

Software updates remain a sore point for car makers dependent on franchise dealers. Dealers have made clear their concerns regarding software updates and how those updates rob them of a valuable point of customer interaction.

In spite of dealer resistance, car makers such as Chrysler and Toyota have enabled software updates via connected smartphones for basic app updates and installation. And flash drives are still used for map updates and software upgrades by other car companies. In both instances, though, the customer has the option of having the dealer manage the update. (Ford and Fiat, in particular, have made broad use of flash drive updating with mixed results.)

Tesla’s software update philosophy is simple – Tesla will deliver and install the update at a time convenient to the owner at no cost. Following the update, Tesla will provide documentation detailing the extent of the enhancements added to the vehicle.

GM and OnStar have had and have used a similar approach for the past few years, but have played down the capability out of concern for harming dealer relations. Instead of leveraging firmware over the air updates (FOTA) as a competitive advantage – capable of adding value to the car after the sale – GM has only gone so far as to highlight vehicle diagnostic capabilities in its advertising.

Another reason for GM to downplay its FOTA capabilities is the difference between the 3G telecom module from AT&T in the Tesla Model S and the 2.5G telecom module from Verizon currently used by OnStar. Tesla is actively leveraging the wireless connection to enhance the user experience with streaming audio, and access to Google Maps and a Web browser in addition to software updates.

OnStar, in contrast, has been far more conservative with its wireless connection emphasizing low-bandwidth applications such as remote door unlock/lock, remote start, turn-by-turn navigation, stolen vehicle tracking and recovery and diagnostics. That conservatism may change by this time next year as LTE-equipped GM cars begin arriving in the market.

In the meantime, GM will do well to take notes on Tesla’s approach to software updates and the marketing points the company is able to score – unencumbered by franchise dealers trying to protect their service business. The challenge for GM and the industry is to find a win-win solution for dealers, OEMs and car owners to convert software updates to a competitive advantage a la Tesla.


November 16, 2013 07:05 rlanctot

The Obama administration (and its Affordable Care Act) is not the only organization with customer engagement challenges.

BMW, too, is struggling. BMW has sent me a new email offer, but it appears to be some kind of mass mailing. The offer is for the new $187 BMW iPhone 5 Snap In Adapter (“Being Connected is a Snap”) and the email came to my personal Gmail account, but there was no personal salutation, so maybe it’s spam.

I get these messages from BMW pretty routinely, at least 100/year, and many, though not all of them, are pretty impersonal. What amazes me about this one is that BMW clearly wants to sell me something, but can’t seem to be troubled to connect a few crucial dots – particularly the knowledge of which vehicle I own and, of course, addressing me personally.

I have given BMW thousands of reasons, in fact tens of thousands of reasons, to know who I am and what car I own. The tipoff that BMW does not know who I am is the description of the new snap in adapter as being suitable for “vehicles equipped with Option 6NF Smartphone Integration or option 6NR BMW Apps.”

As you may have guessed by now my response to this description is to ask myself whether I have the required equipment or options.  BMW ought to know this.  In fact, BMW shouldn’t be offering me something that might not be applicable to my car.

I had a similar experience with the recent offer of a map update.  The links in the email took me to a Website that interrogated me as to which model year and model car I had and my VIN #.  Why?  Doesn’t BMW know which car I own?

There are three click-through buttons in the original email for the iPhone 5 cradle offer, though one disappears once the images are downloaded.  The remaining options are “Shop BMW Accessories” and “Shop BMW Lifestyle.”  Again, by now you are putting together the fact that this offer is more of a put off than a come on.

What’s wrong with BMW?  Let’s break it down.

#1        BMW should know who I am.  Everything the company does to engage with me should reflect this knowledge.  This is especially true when it comes to asking me to purchase optional BMW items.  The $187 iPhone 5 cradle is only the latest example and follows, by a couple weeks, the offer of a $255 map update, which was similarly impersonal.

#2        To deliver the personalized experience I am describing requires building internal databases tying car configurations to customers.  This seems to be a pretty obvious step, but it is clearly not something that BMW has prioritized.  Companies such as Teradata work with car companies such as Ford, GM, Volvo, Daimler and others to build these databases.  In fact these databases are essential, especially when it comes to recalls or software updates – the car company must be able to identify those customers in possession of cars that need attention.

#3        It is pretty obvious that somewhere within BMW there is an organization that knows who I am and what car I own.  The organization that knows who I am may be the marketing department.  The organization that knows what car I own may be aftersales.  But it seems as if these departments are not putting their information together.  The result of this failure is uncoordinated communications that fail to connect with or engage me, the consumer.  Communications with car owners must be efficient, precise, targeted, personal and as infrequent as possible.  A poorly targeted message might be perceived as or might actually be spam or a phishing attack.

#4        Marketing communications must be orchestrated and minimized and, wherever possible, linked to a common secure and reassuring client touch point – a portal.  BMW is planning to launch a customer portal within the next 12-15 monthss, but until it does communications such as the one for the iPhone 5 cradle appear awkward and likely to miss the mark.

#5        Finally, the only reasons for ordering the iPhone 5 cradle are to enable access to the iTunes store and iTunes-acquired content (audio or video) via the center stack.  The offer allows Apple to open an iTunes kiosk in the BMW driver’s console.  That’s a great deal for Apple, but it doesn’t do BMW much good and, aside from working well with BMW Apps, it has the potential to steer the customer away from using BMW’s on-board assets.  Maybe it is for this reason that BMW provides little description in the offer as to why this device is attractive or should be purchased.

#6        To further complicate matters, the offer email provides a link to my dealer’s Website.  So it appears that there are three places to buy the cradle including two BMW Websites and my dealer’s Website – though the dealer link is to the dealer’s generic site.

Like the Obama administration, BMW should accelerate its customer portal development activities.  Customer and vehicle identification must be coordinated and managed company-wide and globally.  With this coordination will come more coordinated marketing messages all of which should link back to the customer’s portal.

The customer portal will be equipped with vehicle service history, warranty information, available accessories as well as payment history and payment options.  (There are many more customer engagement elements that can be added including driving performance, geo-fencing, route guidance, trip planning, vehicle diagnostics and other commercial offers.)  More importantly, the customer portal will be secured with a password and other security elements.

With customer identity increasingly a sensitive issue and spam and phishing activities via email so widespread, BMW is leaving the door open with its current impersonal marketing activities.  If BMW wants its customers to part with hundreds of dollars for accessories or map updates, the least the company can do is send a personalized message and one that reflects the fact that the company actually knows what car the customer owns and whether or not the offered accessory is suitable for that car.

BMW is not alone in this failure, and the industry is slowly waking up to the need to orchestrate customer communications and manage vehicle and customer identification.  The implications for aftersales marketing and vehicle security are manifest.  But the most important reason to get this right is to create a delightful ownership experience.

 

P.S.

 

The iPhone 5 cradle is a back-to-the-future moment for BMW - bringing back memories of handset cradles from Peiker and Bury.  Surely a wireless (or wired) connection is sufficient.  The iPhone 4 cradle was a headache to connect and stow in the console both when getting into and when leaving the car.  (I won't get into the overheating problem associated with the iPhone 4 cradle - nightmare.)  Can't I just leave my phone in my pocket?  Is BMW going to create a cradle for my Blackberry Z10?  My Galaxy 4?  Slavish devotion to Apple is not a strategy.


November 9, 2013 16:00 rlanctot

It wasn’t enough that my 2013 BMW couldn’t handle Daylight Savings Time, failing once again in its twice a year duty to set back its clock, it also was incapable of handling a map update. I bit the bullet last week, accepted my fate and paid the $255 vigorish for the new map and the update failed. My experience highlights two important problems with connected cars that the industry must overcome.

Issue #1: Cars must have the latest map data. Cars equipped with navigation systems all over the world normally have maps that are no newer than six months old. Old maps create driver distractions and the potential for accidents. How car makers have allowed this state of affairs to continue is incomprehensible. It is one of the most serious problems facing the industry.

Issue #2: Cars should be more like phones on wheels.  Even cars equipped with embedded modems – just like mobile phones – are far from behaving like mobile phones.  The embedded modem is isolated from most vehicle systems for fear of hacking and also to limit the use of the device.  In other words, instead of using the embedded device as a cost avoidance tool for anticipating and fixing problems with on-board hardware and software, car makers are trying to avoid the cost of using the embedded device.

Status of Issue #1:  My personal experience with map updates has been expensive, annoying, disappointing and frightening.  I have invested approximately $1,500 over the past 10 years in map updates for vehicles I have owned.  My latest experience was perhaps the most disappointing.

During an oil change visit to the dealer I asked if the dealer could update my on-board map – since I had received an email alert that one was available.  The dealer said that they’d first have to get a code and then once they had the code the update process would be at least 1.5 hours – probably longer. 

I decided to order the map update and try to do the installation myself – which is recommended.  I paid the $255 (including tax) for the thumb drive containing 2014 Version 1A of TomTom’s map of North America for my 2013 BMW.  I plugged the thumb drive in and went for a drive while it downloaded.

Once the update was done downloading to the car, the car displayed a message (see attachments):

“USB device data is not the latest version.  Start update anyway?”

I drove to the dealer to get a consult on the situation.  The dealer could not explain why this message was displaying.  Two hours later, I was told that the technician had used the dealer’s own 2014 map to update my navigation system.

The number of failure points is impressive:

1.      Update notification – generic and impersonal – The customer has to enter his or her personal information and VIN # to obtain the map update.  This process should have been handled in a more direct personal way perhaps via a portal and/or with an integrated smartphone element.  (Most customers will NOT have their VIN handy and the car maker ought to be managing this customer and vehicle identification information.)

2.      Map update is way too expensive – At $255, the map update is prohibitively expensive – which explains why only about 5% of car owners update their maps.

3.      There is no concierge experience for the customer that is crazy enough to update his or her maps.  At $255, there should be coffee and donuts, soft cushions, calming music, theater tickets … SOMETHING!

4.      Did the update really happen?  The customer will need to drive to some area with new construction to see if his or her map data was actually updated.  Otherwise, how would someone know?  The supporting documents claim massive amounts of added data, categories, POIs, etc. – but this is not obvious to the user.  (How about a document accessible online that portrays significant regional map updates or enhancements?)

5.      The thumb drive with the BMW map update had storage capacity of 32G of which 21G was used, suggesting an extraordinary amount of content (unless it was poorly compressed) – yet there is nowhere to discover precisely what is included.

What is the industry doing to address the problem of map updates?  Companies such as Ford, Mazda and GM have begun putting map data on thumb drives to hit lower price points and to make map updating easier.  But maps are still old and updates are still expensive.

Ford enables a turn-by-turn navigation experience via the connected smartphone without full map navigation.  TeleNav and deCarta are working on hybrid (on-board/off-board) navigation experiences.  Tesla uses the on-board modem in the Model S to stream Google’s map, which is fine as long as there is a connection.

Daimler and Kia intend to offer European customers a few free map updates as a customer relationship tool with new cars, but the strategy has not been widely adopted by competing car makers.  Navigation software supplier NNG is focusing on the problem with its NavFusion campaign.

NNG’s strategy is to include navigation in all cars but allow the customer to “unlock” the on-board application via a connected smartphone.  Once unlocked in this way, the smartphone app is updated routinely via the app store process, and then the smartphone passively updates the vehicle system when connected.  The brilliance of NNG’s approach is that it gets the customer to connect their phone to the car - a step that too often fails to hapen - and enables a map updating experience via the connected phone - requiring no additional license fee.

NNG is exploring a variety of models for bringing its map updating concept to the market including enabling incremental (country by country or state by state) updates that will be more manageable in size.  The possibility also exists for publicly accessible map Wi-Fi “top-up stations” at dealerships.

The bottom line for the industry is that map updates remain a significant unsolved problem.  And unsolved problems represent opportunity.  Consumers responding in countless surveys have made clear their interest in map updates.  The existing map update rate of 5% suggests a significant upside opportunity.

In fact, even a 10% or 20% improvement in map updating would translate into significant revenue for car makers and their suppliers.  Even more important is the fact that map updates can be converted by dealerships into profitable aftermarket revenue, new car sales and other customer engagement opportunities.

It is also worth noting that companies such as HERE and TomTom claim to be updating their map data on a daily basis.  Google and OpenStreetMaps are also updating on an increasingly frequent basis.  The industry needs to focus on narrowing the gap between map updating and map update delivery.  The immensity of this gap suggests the possibility for disruptive change and new thinking.

Status of Issue #2:  Cars acting more like smartphones on wheels. 

Cars are still pretty stupid.  But cars with activated embedded modems have no excuse for being stupid.  The on-board modem ought to be the core of the car’s brain and, combined with an on-board map, should be capable of rendering a contextually aware experience for the driver.

The fact that my BMW, in fact every BMW, still does not understand Daylight Savings Time is but one fundamental and obvious indication that cars are still pretty stupid, even the ones with modems.  As the industry shifts inexorably toward embedded modems, and LTE modules in particular, the day of the stupid car should be put behind us.  If the simplest electronic products can cope with Daylight Savings Time, a sophisticated $50,000 mobile electronics device should be able to keep up.  Our industry depends on it.


October 31, 2013 12:15 rlanctot

Industry experts are quick to declaim their belief that the days of free over-the-air radio are numbered. This increasingly conventional wisdom declares that the combination of streaming audio services (Pandora, Spotify, etc.) and Internet radio services (TuneIn, Aupeo!, etc.) will steadily crowd out the AM/FM competition and render it irrelevant.  Some have gone so far as to predict the demise of the car radio.

These forecasters ignore the vital role that radio plays in delivering urgent location-relevant information ranging from traffic and weather to news and sports and, yes, even emergency broadcasts and amber alerts. They also ignore the fact that this local content is delivered with locally relevant advertising.

There is some cause for concern.  Radio advertising revenue has fallen about 10% between 2008 and 2012 from $18.3B to $16.48B, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau. But radio remains dominant in reach and frequency of use, according to respected sources such as Nielsen Audio and Edison Research.

The decline in ad spend is a warning sign, though, and it is important to interpret that sign accurately. Unlike television and the Internet, radio remains largely unsearchable and is almost impervious to discovery (without an app). And radio advertising is a one-way proposition.

But technology is emerging to overcome these barriers in the form of audio content recognition (ACR). First introduced by Shazam (for identifying songs playing over the air or anywhere else) and SoundHound, ACR is just beginning to be used to enable an interactive advertising experience – something entirely taken for granted on the Internet and rapidly emerging in television.

In fact the television opportunity has become so compelling that Shazam and SoundHound have completely shifted their focus (and their hundreds of millions of users) to TV, leaving the challenge of enabling interactive advertising on radio and in cars to the likes of Clip Interactive and NextRadio.

Emmis Communications’ NextRadio initiative is based on the introduction of FM chips in mobile phones. Working with Sprint, which has added FM chips to some of its handsets, the service provides local over-the-air reception and adds interactive features, if stations opt to support them, such as buying and rating songs, social media coupons and geo-location services, using the phone’s data channel. Emmis has attracted the participation of 19 radio groups supporting full TagStation content to deliver album art and interactivity, and Ford Motor Company has shown interest in the technology as a solution that can be enabled via a connected smartphone in a car.

Clip Interactive, meanwhile, is using ACR to enable comprehensive interactivity with radio station broadcasts including music and spoken word content as well as advertising. Currently testing in Portland and San Diego with local partners, Clip Interactive is scanning the local broadcast content in order to create an interactive opportunity for broadcasters and their listeners.

Clip executives believe that the Internet and IP-delivered services such as Pandora have raised customer expectations for a personalized and interactive experience. At the same time advertisers want targeting, tracking and direct connectivity to the listener on a one to one basis.

There is no better venue for this kind of personalized and targeted engagement than a car, where the listener is belted in and, very often, on the way to making a purchase or conducting some other kind of transaction. Clip execs believe that broadcast radio needs to step up to interactivity to realize the potential of vehicle-based advertising.

In Portland and San Diego Clip has set up listening posts cataloguing all of the content from the top 30 stations in the market. ACR technology is used as a form of fingerprinting to make all of the broadcast content accessible for interactivity.  Local broadcasters participating in Clip's program create the interactive offers and content to go with the over-the-air offering.

With ACR-interpreted content scanned and stored by Clip, all that is required is for listeners is to run the Clip app in the background on their mobile phone as they drive and, with the click of a button or with a verbal cue they can tag music, advertisements or other over-the-air content with which they can engage when they reach their destination.

“Music is a commodity that others like Pandora will slice, dice and recommend,” says Bill Freund, executive vice president of Clip. “but localized broadcasts will never be commoditized or programmatic. Local broadcasters need to leverage this advantage in the vehicle.”

Clip’s offering is still in a trial phase, but the early results are promising (see example below).  Both Clip and NextRadio enable broadcasters to reach out and engage with their listeners in real time.  In the future, ACR might enable enhanced searching of broadcast content – including spoken word sources. But for now, both services leverage existing technology to transform a medium in need of transformation.

Cast Study halloween.pptx (4.27 mb)


October 20, 2013 22:20 rlanctot

At a time when Apple, Google and Microsoft are all intensifying their flirtation with auto makers in an attempt to capture the fourth (fifth?) screen, an Amazon acquisition of Blackberry suddenly makes a lot of sense.  Amazon has the assets, the content, the delivery platform and the global reach to fulfill much of the cloud connectivity vision increasingly sought by car makers.  All that’s missing are the car company and Tier 1 connections to stitch it all together – which is where QNX comes in.

The digital world is coalescing around a multi-screen vision focused on content delivery, application penetration and e-commerce reaching consumers at every touch point of their connected lives.  Amazon has mastered selling things to people wherever they may be on their computer, watching television or on their mobile device – or even via their Kindle e-reader.  The last frontier for Amazon is the car.

While Apple, Google and Microsoft have overtly pushed their search engines, device connections, cloud resources and operating systems, Amazon has quietly muscled its way to market leadership in online commerce and back-end service support.  Amazon has also shoved its way to the top of the e-reader heap, putting itself into the mobile device business for the first time with the Kindle.

Along the way Amazon has embraced and modified Android for its own purposes and acquired two automotive-facing assets – Audible (an application and Website for delivering electronic books) and Ivona (a natural sounding text-to-speech solution) both already positioned for automotive deployment.  (Audible is actually available as part of BMW’s BMW Apps offering.  And Amazon's Cloud Player has been deployed by Ford.)  Amazon’s servers are already supporting mobile apps being used in cars and its content delivery and e-commerce system is perfect for the range of LTE-equipped cars and emerging in-car commerce solutions soon to be rolling out of auto factories around the world.

An acquisition of Blackberry will give Amazon instant credibility in the automotive industry with the QNX real-time operating system, already used in the majority of high-end and mid-range automotive infotainment systems.  Amazon will also gain access to Blackberry’s highly reliable and secure messaging platform suitable for both automotive and mobile device applications.  And car makers determined to enable an app store experience in the car will find one ready-made from Amazon.

QNX OEM partners: BMW, PSA, Audi, Hyundai, Chrysler, GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Daewoo, Land Rover, and Porsche

QNX Tier 1 partners: Johnson Controls, Panasonic, Mitsubishi Electric, Garmin, Harman, Denso, Visteon

Even more valuable to Amazon than the automotive play, though, is the mobile play.  A Blackberry acquisition allows Amazon to dive directly into the deep end of the mobile handset business and leverage its differentiating content delivery assets for a one-of-kind mobile experience that extends the company’s existing mobile device footprint.

A combination messaging device and e-reader with cutting edge audio and video delivery capabilities and seamless e-commerce elements is a powerful counterpoint to the Apple-Google duopoly and effectively counters Microsoft’s nascent Windows Phone 8 efforts.  For Blackberry, Amazon is everything that Blackberry isn’t.  Summed up in one hyphenated word Amazon is: consumer-friendly.

Blackberry lost its way following the onset of the iPhone and the rise of Android.  The company was unable to define an attractive third path and is struggling to rebuild its unique selling proposition.  Amazon has precisely the assets and brand cachet that Blackberry needs to reposition itself in the market.

Less obvious is the fact that an Amazon acquisition restores confidence among consumers and corporate customers alike.  The acquisition will also reinforce the Android-centric message – even though Blackberry is using QNX – Blackberry phones  already support Android, which makes it perfectly compatible with Amazon.

Finally, Amazon can slide directly into all of Blackberry’s existing carrier and retail relationships as it nears the launch of its own wireless device, widely rumored to arrive in time for the holidays.

For Blackberry a tie-up with Amazon restores OEM confidence in the longevity of Blackberry as a company and its QNX division as a supplier of real-time operating system software.  Such an acquisition marries solid automotive credentials and a secure mobile messaging platform with cloud service resources and the world’s largest e-commerce platform.

Such a move also allows car companies to steer clear of Google and Apple with their competing agendas (Google: to sell search-based advertising; Apple: to sell mobile devices).  The only issue that remains to be resolved is whether car makers will welcome Amazon into the aftermarket.

Amazon already offers online access to a wide range of auto parts, supplies and accessories.  A direct engagement with the auto industry could transform this existing retail activity and might, eventually, lead to direct sales of used and new cars – or even car insurance, collision aftercare or vehicle service.  Amazon could facilitate the process of car companies or their dealers opening stores on Amazon.

More than Google, Apple and Microsoft, Amazon understands the power and value of e-commerce.  An acquisition of Blackberry opens wide the door to two large industries, wireless and automotive.  The time is right if Amazon is ready to disrupt both of these markets – and if the auto industry is ready to accept this large yet scrappy newcomer.


August 7, 2013 17:53 rlanctot

The back-up camera mandate should be implemented.  A simplified do-not-touch-your-phone law should be promoted.  And DSRC modules should be mandated on commercial and emergency vehicles.  Those are the results of a survey of attendees at the recent Telematics Update V2V conference in Novi, Mich., regarding US Department of Transportation priorities.

Respondents were asked to vote on 10 To-Do items previously recommended for incoming U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and detailed in a Strategy Analytics blog (tinyurl.com/meud4m7).  Perhaps it is not surprising that these respondents nearly universally agreed that commercial vehicles and emergency vehicles ought to be prioritized for deployment of modules enabling dedicated short range communication (DSRC) messaging.  But DSRC-based V2V technology was not the only thing on their minds.

Respondents strongly agreed that anti-texting laws and hands-free phone initiatives were probably doing more to confuse drivers than they were to mitigate distracted driving.  For those reasons, 61.5% said they agreed that a do-not-touch-your-phone law to simplify the rules and the enforcement of anti-distraction laws was a worthy task for the incoming Secretary.

But the biggest headline-grabbing support of 84.6% and 92.3%, respectively, was voiced for the deployment of DSRC for commercial and emergency vehicles.  The complete results appear following the verbatim comments (below) where respondents offered their own priorities for the new DOT Secretary.

“Congestion mitigation (congestion pricing, traffic information, V2I, etc.) … high levels of congestion as we see in San Francisco and other cities is getting worse and will have a greater negative economic impact.

“Collision mitigation technologies for heavy trucks  (as in #5).

“ITS (information hotspots) similar to the ITS hotspots in Japan – in-vehicle signage and traffic information.

“#7 (above) is a key element of research – can DSRC and LTE play together well (as in) spectrum sharing etc.  We are (encouraging) the wireless community to come to the Novi CVTB V2I Test bed and try LTE and DSRC first as a simcast of messages on both channels.”

“Reorganize US DOT to improve efficiency.  As an example, there are a minimum of three organizations with DOT that have commercial vehicle oversight and rule-making authority.  There should only be one.

“Reassign all policy and governance for the Connected Vehicle program from the JPO to the FHWA office of policy.  JPO has had this in their hands for the past 5+ years and have not moved the ball.  The technical people are making decisions that will require a lot of work to modify if the policy people don’t follow the same path.  They should be working together and with the industry.”

“The total benefit for back-up camera systems as a visual-only warning mechanism have not been sufficiently compared to back-up object detection systems that incorporate automatic brake control.  Whichever of those two approaches shows the greatest likelihood of saving lives should be what is legislated.

“DSRC systems have not yet been sufficiently studied as an approach to improve existing active safety mechanisms.  This study should be performed, and if the results prove positive, it should be considered whether to mandate those integrated active safety mechanisms whenever DSRC may be mandated.

“As a subset to #4 (above), I would urge DOT to encourage/facilitate an industry discussion about legal liability in accidents involving autonomous systems.  Start the discussion now before a headline-grabbing accident or class action lawsuit has everyone declaring ‘Not our fault!’ and expending all their energies on protecting themselves.”

“Provide the metropolitan area with a means (public transport, emergency, taxi, …) to upgrade roadside units with DSRC.

“Mandate DSRC for cabs in major cities.

“Provide new infrastructure plan with networking capability.

“Generate green and SDC lane on highway.”

“Release Safety Pilot results/data ASAP (the lack of information is causing everyone to adopt a wait-and-see approach).

“Ensure that all new highway developments/upgrades have DSRC fitted (the cost is miniscule compared to the cost of the road).

“Ensure that all new traffic light deplyments have DSRC fitted (the price of RSEs woud tumble in the face of such opportunities).”

“Research programs, initiatives, incentive programs focusing on driver distraction countermeasures via technological solutions (e.g. voice interfaces, improved HMIs, lockouts).

“Focus on improvements to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure (roads and bridges).

“Focus on driver fatigue/drowsiness as a safety area (like LaHood did with driver distraction).

“Much greater focus on commercial vehicle safety research; greater funding allocations to FMCSA and FTA research programs.”

And the complete results:

#1 – Mandate: Do Not Touch Your Phone While Driving

Yes: 61.5%      No: 23.1%       Don’t Know: 15.4%

#2 – Endorse California legislation AB 397 for the creation of a VIN-based Next of Kin Notification database.

Yes: 46.1%      No: 15.4%       Don’t Know: 38.5%

#3 - Implement the back-up camera mandate.

Yes: 69.2%      No: 15.4%       Don’t Know: 15.4%

#4 – Provide a legislative framework and guidelines for states to register and license self-driving cars with the sole requirement that drivers must be in the driver seat and responsible for control of the vehicle.

Yes: 53.8%      No: 38.5%       Don’t Know: 7.7%

#5 – Initiate a process for mandating the installation of DSRC modules on commercial vehicles in FMCSA Classes 6, 7, 8.

Yes: 84.6%      No: 0               Don’t Know: 15.4%

#6 – Require the installation of DSRC modules on all emergency and service vehicles.

Yes: 92.3%      No: 0               Don’t Know: 7.7%

#7 – Add LTE and LTE Advanced modules to all current DSRC tests.

Yes: 38.5%      No: 38.5%       Don’t Know: 23.1%

#8 – Highlight elements of Next Gen 911 research focused on the acquisition of crash scene information including text, video, data and voice via smartphones.

Yes: 61.5%      No: 7.7%         Don’t Know: 30.7%

#9 – Highlight app development intended to improve the functioning of all transit including public transportation, traffic information, schedules, traffic, car and ride sharing.

Yes: 84.6%      No: 7.7%         Don’t Know: 7.7%

#10 – Roadside Bluetooth installations should be required to add DSRC.

Yes: 53.8%      No: 15.4%       Don’t Know: 30.7%